Is there information content in corporate asset writedowns?
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to extend the current literature on corporate asset writedowns. Design/methodology/approach – The paper explains the anomalous price responses to asset writedowns by examining both stock and bond price responses. It applies bond and stock event study methodologies using daily prices. Firms are analyzed by partitioning them according to their financial viability. This analysis is based on the logic that it is more difficult to assess the prospects of firms in financial difficulty from publicly available information. Findings – The study reveals that while asset writedowns have no information content for stockholders of healthy firms, stockholders of financial distressed firms suffer a significant adverse effect. This differential stock price reaction provides an explanation for the anomalous results reported in previous studies. Similar price responses are found for bondholders. The results indicate that the market interprets an asset writedown announcement by a financially distressed firm as a strong negative signal about the firm's prospects. It is also found that the firm's financial health, the subordination status of the bond, the bond's maturity, the bond rating, the amount of the write-off undertaken by a firm in distress, and the leverage change experienced by the firm are all important determinants to bond price response. Long-run analysis reveals significant differences in performance and leverage change between healthy and financially distressed firms undertaking asset writedowns. Practical implications – The paper resolves the anomalous results on information content of corporate asset writedown announcements on stockholders and bondholders. Broadly, the findings have important implications for both finance and accounting literatures in terms of semi-strong market efficiency and security market signaling issues and the importance of considering financial viability of firms when testing market efficiency in the presence of publicly available information. Originality/value – This is the first study to address this issue by examining the information content of asset writedown announcements for both stockholders and bondholders. Past studies document a significant negative stock price response to asset writedown announcements, while there is no bond price response to such official acknowledgment of asset impairment.
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